To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(3)

By: Christi Caldwell


“Oh, Philippa,” her sister murmured once more. Oh, Philippa. A wholly useless expression that conveyed nothing and everything at the same time.

“I do not want your pity,” she said tightly.

“You misunderstand, Philippa. I am sorry for your pain.”

Philippa stiffened. I am sorry. Or my deepest regrets. Those were the other familiar words given since her husband’s passing. Wanting to protect her family from the truth of the pain she’d lived with, Philippa had not let anyone into her world. Not Mother. Not Alex. Not Chloe. Certainly not her brother, Gabriel, the Marquess of Waverly, who’d introduced Philippa to her husband. On most days, she was torn between hating her brother for coordinating that union   and herself for allowing him to. After all, it was ultimately she who’d agreed to the match with Calvin.

Just like her family, she, too, had been content to see what was on the surface; a staid, polite, respectable man. She, weak, pathetic Philippa, had been so fixed on how reserved he was. So very different from her explosive, now dead, sire that she’d failed to notice the falsity in Calvin’s smile. As such, she had never predicted that Calvin’s kindness would be blotted out by his ruthless need for an heir.

What would they say if they knew the real truth? At the protracted silence, she cleared her throat and pulled the needle through.

Chloe moved over in a soft whir of skirts and sank to a knee alongside Philippa. “I do hate seeing you like this.”

“I’m sorry,” Philippa replied automatically. Often, those words came, rote, born of a child who’d been constantly making apologies to their monster of a father.

Chloe covered Philippa’s fingers with her own in a reassuring caress. “You do not need to be sorry for missing your husband,” she said gently.

In this moment, with her sister’s aching hurt for her a tangible force, Philippa was sorry. It was hardly fair to accept sympathies for a loss she did not feel.

“It has been a year,” Chloe said gently…needlessly.

Philippa managed a nod. Three hundred and sixty-five days of black widow’s weeds. She could wear whatever Society dictated, but she could not mourn the moment a husband such as Calvin Gage went on to the hereafter. Cold. Unfeeling. Despising of his daughter with her partial deafness. Singularly driven in his quest for a male heir, there had been little redeeming in him as a husband. “I will reenter Society at my own time. When I am ready.” She underscored those latter words with an unwavering resolve.

“Well, whether you’re ready or not, you don’t have much choice in the matter. Mother is expecting you to reenter Society.” Just like that, Chloe yanked the earth out from under Philippa’s feet.

No!

“Yes,” Chloe said softly.

Had she spoken aloud? Chloe gave a wry smile, so much more in character with who she commonly was, that had their mother’s intentions for them not been breathed to life, then Philippa would have found solace. But Chloe had said it. And now, as her sister proceeded in a very Chloe-like, practical argument on all the reasons Philippa should enter ton life, her mind whirred, spinning out of control. She drew her arms close and hugged the embroidery frame to her chest. She’d been married. For six years. At five and twenty years she was no fresh debutante expected to make a match, and yet, is that what her mother hoped, nay, expected of her? Panic licked at the edge of her senses. Or mayhap Jane and Gabriel didn’t wish her underfoot. Her breath came hard and fast. Of course she could retire to the country alone with her daughters—

“Nor do I think it is a bad idea for you to leave this townhouse,” her sister was saying, yanking Philippa back from the brink.

She blinked rapidly. “I…” Can’t, “…will think on it.”

Her sister’s lips turned down ever so slightly. “Promise me you’ll at least go shopping.”

How desperate Chloe was to send her out. Philippa would rather sit through a lecture on propriety from their always-proper mother than visit Bond Street. No one knew that. Not her younger sister. Not her mother. And certainly not her two elder brothers. They’d always seen a proper lady who enjoyed ladylike ventures: embroidering, shopping, sketching colorful blooms, but never anything more interesting. Then, no one truly knew all the secrets she carried. Or the hopes. Or rather, the hopes she’d once carried, to laugh with abandon and speak her mind. Another pang struck her heart.

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